Please visit the new home of Majikthise at

« Drum Major For Justice Awards | Main | Katrina vanden Heuvel Introducing Markos Moulitsas »

June 23, 2006

Wynton Marsalis Assails Partisanship

Wynton Marsalis, originally uploaded by Lindsay Beyerstein.

Incongruously, Wynton Marsalis devoted most of his acceptance speech at the Drum Major Institute to assailing partisanship.


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Wynton Marsalis Assails Partisanship:


Quite possibly the best trumpeter alive.

Richard Hofstadter, in The Idea of a Party System, tells how American politics became partisan, even though hugely influential currents of thought before the American Revolution were against the idea of partisanship. I think those who were against parties might have been having premonitions of the way things would turn out.

There's something self-contradictory in the idea of political parties in a democracy: in order to represent the people, your party must plausibly claim to serve all the people. But if you serve all the people, then why should we have parties? Such division is only necessary if there are to be factions, with one segment of our society trying to coerce the other. This seems to be anathema to democracy. It ensures that one faction of the people will frustrate the will of another faction of the people. What's worse, since the factions need to court a majority of the voters, their platform must by nature become clumsy as they add on interests.

That all leaves out the fact that it is in many ways (though the founders didn't envision our population and diversification of economy) a colossally stupid idea to imagine that the affairs of 300 million people can be managed by 500 congresspeople, and that the interests will be narrowed to a moneyed few, so that finally, even huge popular outcries, such as that against the Iraq War, don't reach the deafened ears of those who (take the money and) run (with) us.

1984 was not ... - re partisanship. The Federalist papers lay out a theory according to which competing factions result in stalemate which prevents anybody from imposing their vision of the good society on their fellows. But it only works so long as governmental institutions remain "above the fray." Unfortunately, our system has (d)evolved so that unless one is partisan, one has virtually no chance of becoming an insider.

Not while Clark Terry is still going strong, John. Even Wynton would tell you that.

Thanks Bob,

The problem with every mechanism the Founding Fathers laid down was that they rely in the end on human beings acting in good faith. Human beings only do that when they've realized that it's in their own best interests to do so, and that the alternative doesn't work (as, say, most Germans realized about genocide after 1945). I think the Founding Fathers may have thought that they could put governmental mechanisms in place that would ensure good government (and they certainly did to a great extent, better than, say, if they'd put an Ottoman-style sultanate in place with the same rules of succession). But it relies upon human good faith in the end.

Read that Richard Hofstadter book--he provides a lot of evidence for the idea not only that many, many pre-Revolutionary politicians were vehemently against partisanship, but that they were drawing from a very popular European current of thought (perhaps informed by the English Civil War).

I can imagine an analogy that compares partisanship to racism. Several times during the last few years, I've been shocked by the intense, irrational hatred that some people on the right of American poliics have spewed toward people they identify with the label "liberal". And some of the hatred, and the rhetoric it uses, reminds me of the hatred that used to be vented toward Jews. There are passages in some of Anne Coulter's books that read like old time anti-semitic tracts, with the word "Jew" replaced by the word "liberal".

"Not one of us/Not one of us/No, you're not one of us" -- Peter Gabriel

I can see that, Lawrence. It's funny--I've befriended conservatives, and even dated a couple (and I mean, red-red-state style conservatives), and although in private we'd have all the political discussions we wanted, I felt as if I were really breaking rules and living on the edge, whereas I had no such feeling when I dated black women.

I find it a shame that we're so factionalized. I keep repeating this every time the "Is America Fascist?" question comes up, but I feel that this will be our downfall, that our divisions, and not a Nazi-style unity, will be the occasion of our downfall into hatred.

I think back in the Revolutionary days, people were more ethical than they are nowadays. I'm not saying they were completly ethical, but moreso than now - people who really did try to do what was best for America, and were some of the best minds at the time. Who do we have running the country now? Rich socialites, many who could care less about the average person, many of which are not the best minds in America, and if they were put their own classes fortunes above anything else. I really wonder if you were to go back in time and take the Revolutionary forefathers and show them America and the state it's in now - what the hell they would do. Espouse revolution? Feint? Cry?

Who do we have running the country now? Rich socialites, many who could care less about the average person, many of which are not the best minds in America, and if they were put their own classes fortunes above anything else.

In other words, the US is now run by people who are no different from the Founders, only that they're not into philosophy.

>I think back in the Revolutionary days, people were more ethical than they are nowadays.

I can see this--wealth can breed dissolute people, and we've been very wealthy here for the last century and more. George W. Bush obviously became disengaged because he was raised by governesses, instead of very distracted and busy parents, and learned to scoff at discipline. The World War II pilot father thus would have no war hero son in W.

But also, it's important to note that for the Founding Fathers, revolution was possible. They made a revolution, and so they had to hold themselves strictly to ethical standards, or be as guilty as that which they replaced. And even though they were fairly ethical to begin with, tax rebellions still broke out within a decade after the Revolution, though I should also mention that taxes, by the time of the Whisky rebellion, were beginning to be unfairly levied.

By the end of the Civil War, there was no such danger of a second Revolution. The Civil War was secession and not revolution, and fought, I need not say, over an obnoxious issue, slavery, but it still made obvious that the Federal Government would not be overthrown; and the quashing of the Socialists and the IWW, within the decades to come, put down that threat as well. The 60s counterculture, who threw around the term "revolution," turned out not to have the organizational ability or enough will or popular support to effect one.

So with the poor put down, yes, the wealthy have turned to destroying the middle class, and unlike Europe, who have retained a healthy fear of their own public to this day, our political classes have absolutely no reason to be concerned about a revolution here. And since political power is reserved for the rich (that is, those with huge advertising budgets) here, the political arena is too often only a tool for the rich to become richer. The Founding Fathers would have been very concerned that they'd be judged unworthy to bear the standard, and could as easily be overthrown themselves. I wouldn't be at all surprised to find that they were more ethical.

The comments to this entry are closed.